We have all seen and heard the divorces of celebrities, athletes and politicians endlessly covered by the national media. It always seems as though one of the parties is seeking extensive alimony or one spouse has been ordered to pay an exorbitant amount of alimony as part of the divorce settlement. Like many other things that we see on television or read on the Internet, these types of situations are not representative of normal divorce actions in Georgia and particularly in our area.
When awarding alimony, Courts in Georgia first classify the alimony sought as temporary or permanent. Temporary alimony is that which is awarded while a divorce is pending and is often given to a spouse who may still be dependent on the other party. While temporary alimony can take the form of cash payments to a party, it is most often awarded “in kind” meaning that the spouse seeking temporary alimony is awarded temporary use of the marital home and/or vehicle, while the other party is charged with the responsibility to maintain any indebtedness or insurance. Once a claimant spouse establishes his or her eligibility for temporary alimony, the Court must then determine an amount. In so doing, the Court looks at two major issues: (1) the claimant spouse’s needs; and (2) the other party’s ability to pay. In looking at the claimant spouse’s needs, the Court will look at the relative financial status between the parties and the claimant spouse’s ability to meet his or her financial needs on a temporary basis. In assessing the other party’s ability to pay, the Court does not limit itself to income actually earned but will also assess the party’s ability to earn over and above what he or she is actually making if there is a disparity between the current job and the individual’s skills or education. Many of my clients are not ideal candidates for any temporary alimony other than temporary use of the marital home and vehicle, etc. However, many cases that we encounter in this area have one party who is at least somewhat dependent on the other because the other often has much greater earning power. In these cases, we try to ensure that the party with limited earning power is taken care of while the divorce is pending.
Permanent alimony is different in that it is a legal obligation to pay an amount to the claimant spouse for a period of time after the divorce has been finalized – sometimes for a set period and sometimes until the receiving spouse remarries or enters into a marital-type relationship. Cases where permanent alimony is truly warranted are rare in this area. In assessing those cases, judges look at factors similar to those mentioned above, but also look at the claimant spouse’s ability to maintain a lifestyle in the manner to which they have been accustomed during the marriage. This includes not only level of income and standard of living but maintaining property and status. When assessing claims of permanent alimony, courts can also look at the reasons for the initial separation and divorce and the behavior of the parties during the marriage, and because of this inquiry these types of cases can become protracted legal battles. In fact, if it can be proven the separation was due to the infidelity of the spouse seeking alimony, he or she will be totally barred from receiving permanent alimony after the divorce. However, judges and juries can and do take behavior in to account when it comes to distribution of marital property which will be the subject of my next column.
Many individuals may feel trapped in their marriages because they believe that they will not be able to survive and maintain their standard of living after a divorce. Still others may feel as though they would not be able to afford going through a divorce while maintaining a place to live and caring for their family. This is often not the case, and if you are presented with a situation such as this I, as always, would encourage you to discuss your case with a local attorney.
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